Acts 2:17-21, Romans 8:22-25
Once upon a time, Pentecost was the most important celebration of the Christian year. Easter might have been the High Holiday, Christmas eventually reached mythical status, but Pentecost was the day when folks gathered to remember the day the Church began. Christmas and Easter were God events. Jesus was born. Christ was resurrected. Pentecost was a therapeutic response to fear.
I have been reading Jon Meacham’s newest book, The Soul of America, the Battle for our Better Angels. His premise is, “Fear has forever been part of the human equation. While we as a nation have not always been heroic, America has been sustained by the belief that we will see progress even in the gloomiest of times.”
Meacham lifts up critical moments in our history where, inspired by angels, America has overcome fear by rediscovering its soul. When you read the book, and I hope you will, you might be surprised at the events chosen. More important, I hope you will pay close attention to his understanding of the soul as defined through quotes from Socrates, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes and a host of others. Meacham writes “Fear dominates by threatening pain, but the soul reminds us that there is always hope beyond our darkest of moment.” Pentecost is about Peter discovering his soul even as his life was being threatened.
On the eve of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived to inspire the disciples. There is no doubt most of us would be motivated if we got a personal visit from God. But God seldom shows up in person and inspiration does not always lead to instigation. Every preacher witnesses those “come to Jesus moments”, when a member of the congregation claims to be stirred by the spoken word. That is why we used to have revivals. People love to come forward, Just as I am. Unfortunately too often they remain just as they were. More times than not, that which inspires the soul is overcome by the rationalization of the mind. We don’t have to be threatened by someone else. Fear, deeply imbedded in our psyche, sanitizes inspiration with reason. The moral arc of the universe is too frequently disrupted by the conjunction, “But”. Inspired by truth, how often have we been sidetracked by this infamous juxtaposition. “I want to stand with you, but.” “I know you are right, but.” We waver, we become fearful and we allow the best intentions of the soul to be dismissed. Pentecost is the day Peter eliminated anxiety and discovered salvation.
Life most Hebrew boys I imagine Peter grew up with the Torah in his right hand. Every Sabbath his mother made sure he attended the synagogue. He knew the commandments, the stories of Moses and the songs of David. On Passover, whenever possible, Peter made his way to Jerusalem. But all of that changed when he met Jesus. For three years Peter followed a man who placed love of neighbor before the sanctity of an institution. Jesus taught that every woman and man was a child of God. Jesus revered God’s creation and implored us to honor the miracle of nature. None of this talk seems radical, yet the leaders in the Temple accused Jesus of sedition. The Sadducees called for Jesus’ execution. Backed by an unholy alliance with Rome, these religious men crucified Jesus, believing his death would put an end to those who questioned the authority of the Temple. They wanted to put the “fear of God” into the disciples.
But God had other plans.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter, the very man who denied Jesus, stood before his savior’s executioners and spoke from his heart. He began telling anyone who had ears to hear about the resurrection of Jesus. Once Peter had their attention he shared the vision of Jesus. Peter spoke of a new heaven and earth, a time when folks would come together, not as adversaries, but as friends. Peter claimed Jesus was the fulfillment of the hope of the prophets. Jesus truly was the Messiah.
The Sadducees were outraged by Peter’s words. They dismissed him, claiming he was drunk. Peter responded by quoting from the Book of Joel. “I will pour my Spirit upon you. Your youth shall have visions. Your elderly will dream dreams. The day of the Lord is upon us. Repent, and discover the glorious mercy of God.”
Thousands of people, on hearing Peter’s words, begged for hear more. The High Priest responded by threatening to arrest and kill anyone joining the disciples. His words were ignored as the mob followed the better angels, and became a community by worshipping God and caring for each other.
Every time we remember Pentecost we should celebrate it as a day when hope transcends fear, a day when we can believe anything is still possible. Each Pentecost Sunday we should cling to the truth that God’s creation, God’s love, God’s community, should never be secondary to any institution, including the church.
Peter stood against the Temple because the Priest had forgotten that God is gracious, merciful, and steadfast in love. Peter stood against Rome because Pilate refused to understand that the power of compassion and hope can never be enslaved by legions of fear and destruction.
Finally the Temple and Rome played their last card. “Peter, you are stretching the boundaries of faith into areas where it doesn’t belong. You are becoming political.”
Peter replied, “No, I am finally becoming Biblical.”
There is such a fine line drawn between what is political and what is religious. As Presbyterians, we don’t endorse political candidates from the pulpit. As a Presbyterian minister I have sometimes been encouraged to avoid anything controversial when I preach. Peter would not have made a very good Presbyterian. Jesus taught Peter to love his neighbor. Jesus taught Peter to be in dialogue with his enemy. Jesus taught Peter to see God in creation. On that morning, fifty days after the resurrection, Peter, discovering his soul, asked why the Priests had turned their backs on the Torah. He no longer feared their threats. Peter was fully motivated by a hope discovered while reading the word of God. Peter is a prime example that sometimes you have to speak what God puts on your heart rather than fear the consequences of those motivated by power.
Our Psalm this morning was Psalm 104. It is a hymn acknowledging God as the creator of our beautiful earth. Our other text was Romans 8:23, “The whole of creation has been groaning in pain hoping for salvation.”
This week I drove up Reid’s Gap to take a bike ride along one my favorite stretches of God’s creation. It was my first up close view of how human greed is raping Mother Earth. If Peter were standing in this pulpit he would ask Dominion, “What have you done to My Father’s World?” Then Peter would ask me, “Why have you remained silent?”
So would Peter be political, biblical, or both?
God gave us Christmas. God gave us Easter. On Pentecost, God expects us to give something back. Too often fear causes us to hesitate. I am thankful to folks like Jill and Cheryl and the better angels among us who have not remained silent. You are truly Pentecost people. Amen.